A 'high-touch' journey to success

The Clothing Bank has helped more than 500 women to stand on their own feet and significantly clear their debts

The Clothing Bank has helped more than 500 women to stand on their own feet and significantly clear their debts

What started off as a simple plan to convince retailers to donate excess garments and train unemployed single mothers in basic business skills skyrocketed into a personal development “sisterhood”, with far-reaching implications for the women whose lives it touches.

Through donations from Edcon, Woolworths, Pick n Pay Clothing and, most recently, Mr Price, The Clothing Bank receives more than 50 000 garments a month, which are then sorted, categorised and distributed.

The aim is to assist women in starting small clothing businesses that can earn them at least R4 000 a month.

The Clothing Bank has developed a two-year programme that helps the women to start their own small retail businesses. The excess clothing sourced from the retailers is used to help them trade.

“We started off quite naive,” said Tracey Chambers of her and founding partner Tracey Gillmore’s initial efforts. “We had a wonderful product and we thought, if we just add business and finance, everything else would be fine.

“But what we quickly found was that women were facing hectic issues at home – alcohol, violence, dire poverty – and we realised we had to restore these women back to a place of wholeness if they were to survive in business.”

A two-year holistic development programme evolved, which together with business skills teaches a basket of life skills such as good parenting and communication.  

Each woman is appointed an accredited life coach to work with and through The Clothing Bank community. They share their problems and stories so that healing begins to take place on a deep level.

“This programme is very high-touch,” said Chambers. “We journey alongside them, it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of hours.”

With branches in Cape Town, Paarl, Kleinmond and Johannesburg, the initiative currently includes 500 women and plans to double this number to 1 000 through five new branches that will open across South Africa over the next three years.

Since 2010, 590 women have enrolled and, collectively, have made more than R8-million in profit. Debt levels have reduced by 90% and on average the beneficiaries have managed to save about R3 300 each.  

Most importantly, a sense of pride and self-worth has been restored. The beneficiaries are able to help themselves and their families, and continue to grow their successful businesses.